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Recommended Read: The Sweetest Dream by Doris Lessing

Written by Lisa Spurgin, 25th October 2013

the sweetest dreamWe're on the cusp of the weekend, and no ordinary weekend as British Summertime ends and the clocks go back for another year. So what better time is there to curl up with a good book? For one thing you can avoid the confusion that is caused by the time changing, and it's also a good way of combating any dullness that the dark, cold nights may bring...

If you've gone through all of the books on your shelves, The Reader Online is here to come to the rescue with our Recommended Reads series. This selection comes from Ellen Perry, Development and Communications Assistant, who has been enjoying the inter-generational world of The Sweetest Dream by Doris Lessing.

Many members of staff at The Reader Organisation list a book they are ‘currently reading’ as part of their email sign off, and this was mentioned in mine for rather a long time – it did take me quite a long time to read it. Without wishing to put anyone off, the book is perhaps not ‘gripping’ in the conventional, action-packed page-turner sense, but it is strangely compelling, and demands something of those who read it, which I think is what maintained its presence in my life for such an extended period. It might almost be that significant time is required to digest, to reflect, to let its worlds and characters sink into you and attempt to be understood. In turn, it rewards, in my opinion, with rich characters, complex relationships and evocative descriptions.

The novel begins in 1960s England, and spans decades, generations and continents as the family and friends of Julia Lennox move in and out of her large London house, under the ever-loving care of Frances, her daughter-in-law, whose acting potential continues to be quashed by her need to financially support her sons. Along with their friends, Colin and Andrew Maddox live the life of 1960s teenagers, before going to university and pursuing various careers whilst falling in and out of love.

It’s a cliché, but The Sweetest Dream absolutely sucks you into the world and lives it presents, impending you to inhabit the book and feel a personal knowledge of the characters and their intertwining lives as if they were your own friends. Yet, they also have somewhat of an impenetrable depth; like real people, you don’t often feel like you fully know all each person is.

In confronting issues such as political activism, aid for Africa, the ethics of journalism and professional fulfilment versus personal life, Lessing prompts the reader to ask themselves questions about what it means to be a good person, to do good in the world, and how ‘good’ can even be defined. Long may we muse over the answers. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to wish I lived in Julia’s house myself.

The Sweetest Dream, Doris Lessing, Flamingo (HarperCollins) (2001)

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